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As hard as it is to believe, some Honda product planners back in the mid-'80s just weren't sure the public would accept a new line of more expensive luxury automobiles wearing the Honda emblem. The line of reasoning ran thus: Buyers expect small size, high quality and a low price from Honda, so a larger, higher-quality, high-priced car simply wouldn't fit the image.
Right or wrong, Honda chose to market its first upscale offerings through a new channel, called Acura, beginning in the 1987 model year. Although this created the challenge of establishing an identity for an all-new brand, it also gave Honda
The opportunity to handpick the Acura dealer body, which has resulted in exceptional dealer service.
Whether because of or in spite of its Honda heritage, the Acura division was a rousing success from the start, and remains so to this day even though it has been slightly upstaged by the Toyota Lexus and Nissan INFINITI divisions.
Initially, two Acura models were offered: the compact Integra and the large Legend. Two more lines, the slow-selling Vigor (now dropped) and the sensational NSX sports car, were added later. Yet another model is to be launched midway through the 1995 model year, replacing the Vigor.
The current Legend is a second-generation design that shares little but its name with the original. Though comprehensively improved, the 1995 Legend retains all the features that a member of the Acura family is expected to carry. It's exquisitely engineered, beautifully crafted, refined and reliable. Even the substantial price increases that have plagued all Japanese cars during the past few years have done little to dampen the Legend's appeal.
Once you've adjusted the seat and electrically operated tilt/ telescope steering wheel to suit, the time you need to spend familiarizing yourself with the Legend is over. This big Acura is easy to drive, offers no unpleasant surprises in terms of handling and does what's asked of it with a minimum of fuss.
Providing calm, quiet travel over distances both short and long is the task the Legend handles best. On the highway, though, the Legend will run out of fuel before most passengers ask for a rest stop.
The picture changes slightly when the Legend is driven aggressively. Though the steering is nicely matched to all other controls in terms of effort, it lacks the absolute precision you might expect from a sport sedan. Body roll begins to increase as cornering speeds rise, to the point where passengers will notice and, perhaps, complain.
Nearer to the Legend's limits, the front tires begin to howl, a good indication that it's time to slow down. At that point, the excellent all disc/anti-lock braking system proves capable of handling even the severest stopping chores without pull or fade.
In this regard, the uplevel versions, with their larger-diameter tires (P215/ 55R-16), are more composed when used hard. The bigger tires allow higher cornering speeds and slightly increase the steering's responsiveness.
The Sedan GS and Coupe LS also offer a standard traction control system, a worthwhile addition for wet-weather driving.
For everyday use, the standard engine is more than acceptable. To get the benefits of the higher horsepower in the Sedan GS and the coupes, it's necessary to rev the engine higher; below 5000 rpm or so, the difference is negligible. Whichever engine you choose, you'll have one of the more refined powerplants on the road. Engines have always been a Honda strong suit, and the Legend V6 versions are jewels of precision.
The 6-speed manual transmission that comes with the more powerful engine is not quite up to the standards set by the rest of the car, as it suffers from a stiff, notchy linkage. The automatic is a better choice for all-around driving, unless your driving style requires extracting maximum performance.
There's a lot to like - and precious little to criticize - about the Legend. Even in its most expensive form, it represents good value, whether rated for ease of use or resale. By all accounts, the Legend, like other Acuras (and Hondas), is well above average in reliability terms, too.
In addition, the engineering is innovative and the quality is world-class.
It's true that Legend pricing has escalated sharply over the past few years, but Acura, like others competing in the luxury-car business, has attractive leasing deals that diminish some of the pain of purchase.
If a competent, conservative luxury car suits your needs, go see your nearest Acura dealer at the beginning of your shopping excursion.